US hopes to unfreeze 'substantial sum' for Libya

Clinton says she'll petition Congress to make portion of frozen Libyan assets available to meet humanitarian needs, won't name exact amount.

Libyan rebels 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
Libyan rebels 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem)
The US administration hopes to reach a deal with Congress to unblock a "substantial sum" of money to meet humanitarian needs in Libya but it would be a "small fraction" of the more than $30 billion in frozen assets, a senior U.S. official told reporters on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the United States on Thursday sought to increase pressure on the Libyan government by slapping financial sanctions on three companies owned by Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
RELATED:NATO-backed allies aim to get aid to Libya rebelsUK expels Libyan ambassador after attack on missionLondon-based Dalia Advisory Ltd, Libya's state broadcasting company and an Algeria-based subsidiary of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, were added to the U.S. sanctions blacklist.
The sanctions prohibit US transactions with the firms and seek to freeze any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
Representatives from the US were also on  hand when ministers from an anti-Gaddafi coalition called the Libya contact group,which in addition to the US includes France, Britain and Italy, as well as Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan, agreed in Rome to set up a fund to help the rebels, who are desperately short of cash.
The rebel Transitional National Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, says it needs $2 billion to $3 billion in immediate aid. A spokesman said the rebels only had funds to pay for basic needs until the end of May.
Qatari Prime Minister Hammad bin Jassim al-Thani said his country pledged $400 million to $500 million to a so-called Temporary Financial Mechanism. Kuwait promised $180 million.
However, others were more cautious about putting a figure on how much they might provide and Britain said it had already contributed enough.
"The temporary financial mechanism is well defined now and will be operation in the next few weeks," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters. He said Paris was still evaluating its contribution.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington would try to pass legislation to unblock billions of dollars in Libyan assets for the rebels.
Washington has frozen about $30 billion in assets owned by Muammar Gaddafi's government but there are legal obstacles to accessing them. Because of U.N. sanctions, the rebels are unable to sell oil abroad.
"It's a good start," said Mahmoud Jabril, head of the rebels' interim government.
The Rome meeting discussed ways to stop Gaddafi from exporting crude oil or importing refined petroleum as the coalition searched for ways to isolate the Tripoli government from world markets.
"The regime must not be allowed any access to oil and gas revenues to support actions against the Libyan people," a final statement said.
Also on Thursday, Turkey's Foreign Minister has called for a ceasefire in Libya within seven days, his Italian counterpart said during a meeting of the NATO-backed coalition against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Frattini said the United Nations had confirmed its objective for a ceasefire as soon as possible, and that Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had suggested the target.
"Minister Davutoglu, from Turkey...spoke of a very ambitious objective, a ceasefire within seven days," Frattini said.
He said there was a willingness in the anti-Gaddafi coalition to step up the pace of military action to meet what he called the ambitious goal.